Viktor Knavs, 73, and his wife Amalija, 71, took the naturalization oath in a private ceremony at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan.
“They have traveled a wonderful journey like many have, like millions have,” said lawyer Michael Wildes, standing outside the building with the Slovenian couple.
“We just thank everyone for their attention to this very important dialogue on immigration. This is an example of it going right.”
The Knavses are believed to have been granted permanent residence through sponsorship by Melania Trump, who is an American citizen.
Adult U.S. citizens are currently permitted to petition for residency for their parents, married children and adult siblings.
President Donald Trump, who has made tightening the U.S. borders a key effort of his administration, has ripped that process as a threat to U.S. security and called for its elimination.
Long known as family reunification, Trump has derisively labeled the program “chain migration.”
Immigration advocates were quick to highlight the apparent hypocrisy of the president’s parents-in-law benefiting from a program he has vowed to end.
“If it’s true that Melania Trump’s parents obtained their green cards though her, and then they subsequently naturalized, this is exactly the sort of extended family migration that Trump derided as chain migration,” said Hasan Shafiqullah, who heads the Immigration Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy for him to be criticizing extended family migration when his wife is availing herself of the laws that allow exactly that.”
The overwhelming majority of immigrants that obtain green cards do so based on their family connections. Other immigrants receive them through the visa diversity lottery, or based on their employment or their status as refugees.
Just last week, the president railed against “chain migration” in a fact-challenged rant at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
“You have chain migration,” Trump said. “You know what that is? A guy comes in — stone-cold killer in many cases. A guy comes in, and then you have to bring his aunt, his uncle, his father, his grandfather, his grandparents, his third niece by a different marriage.”
The first lady’s path to citizenship still remains shrouded in mystery.
Wildes, who also represents Melania, told Univision in August 2016 that the former model received her green card “based on” marriage in 2001. That claim immediately raised eyebrows because there was no indication she had been in a marriage before exchanging vows with Donald Trump in 2005.
A month after Wildes’ claim, Melania Trump posted on social media a letter attributed to him that claimed she received an elite EB-1 program reserved for applicants with “an extraordinary ability.”
“Mrs. Trump did not receive her green card through marriage. Rather, in 2000, she self-sponsored herself for a green card as a model of ‘extraordinary ability,’ and on March 19, 2001, she was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident,” the letter said.
Experts say that Melania Trump’s modeling career would likely have fallen short of the standards immigration officials consider extraordinary. She mostly appeared in catalogs and ads, though she did pose nude in GQ Magazine in 2000.
Melania Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, asked to clarify how the first lady received her green card, said she doesn’t comment “on her parents as they are not part of the administration and deserve privacy.”
An email reminding Grisham that the question focused on the first lady herself was not returned.
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